06 Feb Why I Stopped Hammock Camping
During the summer of 2016, I was working the Trans Am bike tour for Adventure Cycling Association when I found myself in the town of Missoula, Montana with my tour partner. Throughout the tour, my buddy was talking about camping in a hammock and how wonderful it was. So when I found one available in REI, I jumped at the opportunity and picked up the Hennessy Ultralight Azip camping hammock (affiliate link).
My First Night
I remember being very excited to try it out when the first chance arose to use it after leaving Missoula to Idaho. We had 2 campsites that night. My partner and I isolated ourselves away from our group so I can test out the hammock for the first time.
He walked me through how to set it up, and I was all set for the night. It survived a freak thunderstorm that rolled in during the middle of the night. I remained relatively dry, but extremely cold during the night.
I made the first rookie mistake of sleeping in my hammock without any insulation underneath. I mean who really knows these things without ever reading anything about it. As a result, I was shivering in the middle of the night and had to go digging into my bag to find my sleeping pad to inflate.
Ah! Much better.
For the remainder of the trip, whenever the opportunity presented itself, I hung up my hammock. I was not going to pass up on the chance to hang. I’m going to maximize my hammock ownership.
I must have used it about 5 more times on that trip before we ended up staying indoors because we had a surplus in our budget for the trip.
I have to admit, I was initially skeptical about the sleeping position in a hammock. You’re basically cradled in this cocoon-like pod suspended between 2 trees. I thought it would cause back pain, but it actually did not.
In fact, it was super comfortable to have this thin layer of sil-nylon wrap your entire body as you sway gently with the wind (if it’s windy). There aren’t any pressure points to worry about since you’re up in the air.
I did find that the sides of my arms and legs were cold. I later found that you need to either buy or make your own sleeve for your sleeping pad that had some wings to help insulate the sides of your body. I ended up buying one from Eagles Nest Outfitters. The alternative is to get a bottom quilt for an even warmer sleep.
I brought it with me on 3 more occasions. I used it three times during my Sierra Cascade tour with Adventure Cycling Association later in 2016. I used it at a campground on the way into Reno, once inside the luggage truck and the last time at Mammoth Lakes campground. I had a difficult time finding a tree far enough to secure against the last time. I did bring my tent as a backup, and I’m glad I did.
The 2nd occasion was on an overnight bike tour in Ojai / Santa Paula area. We were confronted by the camp host at Steckel County Park. I was told to remove my hammock and was relegated to sleeping on a tarp that my brother-in-law had brought. Apparently, he county parks do not allow hammocks.
The last occasion was on a small bike tour from San Luis Obispo to Carpinteria. I attempted to do this trip without even having a tent as a backup. Played around configuring a ground bivvy setup when I got up to Lake Cachuma. The next morning, a layer of frost was covering the top of the tarp and I felt a bit cramped as that weighed down onto the top of the hammock. I had to practically crawl in and out of the hammock on my belly. I may not be that old, but it was not the most comfortable thing to do.
Why I’m Stopping
As you can see, there are several challenges to hammock camping that I want to highlight explicitly here.
- Like a tent, you’ll need to buy other accessories for your sleeping setup. Unlike a tent, these accessories add up if you really want to get a comfortable sleep. The tent just needs a footprint and maybe upgraded stakes and tie downs. With the hammock, you have to consider getting something like a SnakeSkins stuff sack (affiliate link) to store your hammock. You’ll also need either an underquilt or an Eagles Nest Hotspot (affiliate link) to stay comfortably warm. You may need to consider tree safe straps that can fit around different diameters of trees. How about climber’s rings to help secure your hang? As you can see, the cost adds up significantly. More importantly all this stuff takes up way too much space for bike touring.
- More and more campgrounds are banning the use of hammocks. I found out the hard way that many local municipalities do not allow you to hang even if you have a tree safestrap. Many state parks don’t allow the use of hammocks as well. The only place I would think a hammock would make sense is if you’re traveling predominantly in a forest remotely in the middle of nowhere. Having the capabilities to hang between trees would be amazing!
- On a bike tour, especially in a proper campground, they won’t have trees for you to hang from. That’s what happened to me in Lake Cachuma as our campground did not have any trees for me to hang from, so I experimented using my bike as a tie point. It didn’t work out very well. There are some folks who bring steel rebar stakes to help create portable hang points. This seems a bit impractical for bicycle touring purposes.
I honestly tried to make it work as much as I could, but I couldn’t get over the negatives to enjoy the positives. Owning a hammock was such a burden that I am forced to give it up. Mine is for sale on OfferUp if you’re interested. It will include the hammock, SnakeSkin XL, extra long tree straps, and an ENO Hot Spot for your sleeping pads.
How About You?
Do you use a hammock on your bike tour? If so, how have you made it work? Are you considering getting one? Why do you think you’ll be able to make it work? What is your setup like? What is the cost? How much space does it take on your bike? How do you deal with occasions when you can’t or don’t have trees to hang from?
Don’t be defensive. This post was intended to be an honest assessment from my experiences. I’d love to hear from others on how they’ve made this work. I want to hear from others who have also tried it, but also stopped using it. There have got to be others out there. Let’s open the discussion here in the comments section.
In case you’re interested, I have my hammock up for sale on LetGo. The ad does not include extra straps and ENO Hot Spot mentioned above but if you are reading this and it’s still up for sale, I will throw in the extra straps and the hot spot for free. Just let me know that you saw it listed on this blog post. Happy shopping!